Fukushima workers “not treated like human beings”

8 years ago by in Japan

After the Fukushima accident in 2011, workers who undertake government-mandated decontamination work at the nuclear plant are promised high salaries including danger pay, meals and accommodation due to the high-risk job. But instead of that, some of the laborers are paid about a fifth of the minimum wage, eat simple rice and have a floor space of about 3.3 meters to sleep on.

In some cases workers are basically laboring for free when taxpayer-funded danger pay is excluded from their pay packets, according to the local press.

The general contractors that are on the top of the pay pyramid and farthest from the risks of the worksite seem to get the biggest amount of money. The government signs direct contracts with the general contractors to take on the decontamination work. After that, these companies subcontract work out to other companies, who in turn do the same.

Onsite workers are employed by companies that are three or four levels down on the pay pyramid and after each company took a part of the money, there is not too much left to pay the workers.

“I was not treated like a human being,” said a 59-year-old man who engaged in decontamination work in Tamura City for about two months last year. He and three other workers had to sleep in a small 13-square meter bungalow and the first served dinner shocked him: “The only side dishes to go along with a bowl of rice were boiled eggplant, bean sprouts and bell peppers.” For lunch, they only had simple balls of rice, as the company gave instructions to the lady who prepared the food to use only Y100 ($1) for breakfast and Y200 ($2) for lunch per person.

An acquaintance who introduced the man to the job told him, “You will be paid Y11,000 ($112) a day to cut roadside weeds. Accommodation and two meals a day are included.” Though that is the actual amount he received, workers are supposed to receive an additional Y10,000 per day in danger pay. If the amount of that danger pay is subtracted from the wage, it means the company itself was only paying the worker Y1,000 ($10) a day, which is less than one-fifth the prefecture’s minimum wage of Y5,500.

Because the system is based on involving multiple subcontractors, “By the time funds reach us the amount needed to pay the danger benefit is no longer there,” according to a person from one subcontractor.